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Being pushed out of your comfort zone can make your IT career

Brian Watson | Sept. 13, 2016
Vanguard CIO John Marcante was working his dream job as the head of the company’s software development team. However, things were about to change.

That inflection point, Marcante says, taught him a valuable lesson in stepping outside of your comfort zone, and set in motion a series of career opportunities that catapulted him to the CIO role with Vanguard, the investment giant with more than $3.8 trillion in global assets under management.

Marcante began his career at GE, spending seven years in multiple IT roles before joining Vanguard in 1993. Both firms are renowned for their talent development strategies, especially their prowess in rotational management programs. Marcante benefitted greatly from both, particularly after that fateful meeting with Brennan.

Leadership experts far and wide agree that the best executives are groomed and nurtured through increasingly challenging roles and assignments. But the right culture and supporting environment need to be in place for that to happen.

And sometimes burgeoning executives need a push. Brennan provided it.

From IT to business

For nearly three years after, Marcante thrived in his role as head of global technology operations. It wasn’t easy, he recalled. While it was a different world from software development, he did put to use some translatable skills, like project management. But Marcante found himself leaning heavily on general leadership skills—the abilities to persuade and influence, negotiate, communicate, build relationships, and think conceptually—to help him in the new position.

[ Related: How the C-Suite Needs the CIO to Lead ]

It was the first time in Marcante’s career where he had to lean heavily on those competencies. And he immediately recognized that those skills — more so than any of his technical acumen—would play a critical part in any future assignments.

And they did. After a few years running the infrastructure operations, Marcante embarked on a leadership journey completely outside of IT.

In 2004, he transitioned into managing Vanguard’s Six Sigma Black Belt programs, creating a new Lean consulting organization along the way. Next came leadership of the company’s advice services group, where he transformed how certified financial planners provide customer service. In 2006, Marcante took over the high-net-worth business.

From business back to IT

Finally, in 2012, with the encouragement of McNabb and Buckley, he returned to the IT organization—this time, as its leader.

During his rotational leadership experiences, Marcante continued to build those leadership capabilities. Today, he sees them as three concentric circles.

The first is technology savviness. That doesn’t mean knowing every bit and byte—instead, it’s the ability to understand what technology can do, and how it can enable a business.

The second is business acumen. In the IT leadership discussion, we have opined for years about the necessity for IT leaders to understand their businesses—not just the financials, but the behavior of customers or clients, competitors and market forces. Marcante was fortunate to see these in his software-development leadership roles, but even more so in his business leadership roles.

 

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